Following the Greek myths around Athena, she was born of Metis, who had been swallowed by Jupiter, and burst from her father's head, fully armed and clad in armor. Jupiter forcefully impregnated the titaness Metis, which resulted in her attempting to change shape (or shapeshift) to escape him. Jupiter then recalled the prophecy that his own child would overthrow him as he had Saturn, and in turn, Saturn had Caelus.
Fearing that their child would be male, and would grow stronger than he was and rule the Heavens in his place, Jupiter swallowed Metis whole after tricking her into turning herself into a fly. The titaness gave birth to Minerva and forged weapons and armor for her child while within Jupiter's body. In some versions of the story, Metis continued to live inside of Jupiter's mind as the source of his wisdom. Others say she was simply a vessel for the birth of Minerva. The constant pounding and ringing left Jupiter with agonizing pain. To relieve the pain, Vulcan used a hammer to split Jupiter's head and, from the cleft, Minerva emerged, whole, adult, and in full battle armor.
Silver denarius of the Roman Emperor Domitianus (Domitian) featuring Minerva, dated c. 90 AD, IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM P M TR P VIIII, laureate head right; IMP XXI COS XV CENS P P P, Minerva standing left, holding spear and thunderbolt, shield resting against back of leg; References: BMC 167, RIC 691, RSC 260, Paris 159, Cohen 260
The Romans celebrated her festival from March 19 to March 23 during the day which is called, in the neuter plural, Quinquatria, the fifth after the Ides of March, the nineteenth, an artisans' holiday. A lesser version, the Minusculae Quinquatria, was held on the Ides of June, June 13, by the flute-players, who were particularly useful to religion. In 207 BC, a guild of poets and actors was formed to meet and make votive offerings at the temple of Minerva on the Aventine Hill. Among others, its members included Livius Andronicus. The Aventine sanctuary of Minerva continued to be an important center of the arts for much of the middle Roman Republic.
As Minerva Medica, she was the goddess of medicine and physicians. As Minerva Achaea, she was worshipped at Lucera in Apulia where votive gifts and arms said to be those of Diomedes were preserved in her temple.
Her worship also was spread throughout the empire. In Britain, for example, she was syncretized with the local goddess Sulis, who often was invoked for restitution for theft.
In Fasti III, Ovid called her the "goddess of a thousand works". Minerva was worshipped throughout Italy, and when she eventually became equated with the Greek goddess Athena, she also became a goddess of battle. Unlike Mars, god of war, she was sometimes portrayed with sword lowered, in sympathy for the recent dead, rather than raised in triumph and battle lust. In Rome her bellicose nature was emphasized less than elsewhere.
Minerva is featured on the coinage of different Roman emperors. She often is represented on the reverse side of a coin holding an owl and a spear among her attributes.
Stemming from an Italic moon goddess *Meneswā ('She who measures'), the Etruscans adopted the inherited Old Latin name, *Menerwā, thereby calling her Menrva. It is presumed that her Roman name, Minerva, is based on this Etruscan mythology. Minerva was the goddess of wisdom, war, art, schools, and commerce. She was the Etruscan counterpart to Greek Athena. Like Athena, Minerva burst from the head of her father, Jupiter (Greek Zeus), who had devoured her mother (Metis) in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent her birth.
By a process of folk etymology, the Romans could have linked her foreign name to the rootmen- in Latinwords such as mens meaning "mind", perhaps because one of her aspects as goddess pertained to the intellectual. The word mens is built from the Proto-Indo-European root *men- 'mind' (linked with memory as in Greek Mnemosyne/μνημοσύνη and mnestis/μνῆστις: memory, remembrance, recollection, manush in Sanskrit meaning mind).
According to John Robison'sProofs of a Conspiracy (1798), the third degree of the Bavarian Illuminati was called Minerval or Brother of Minerva, in honor of the goddess of learning. Later, this title was adopted for the first initiation of Aleister Crowley's OTO rituals.
Minerva is displayed on the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government.
A statue to Minerva was designed by John Charles Felix Rossi to adorn the Town Hall of Liverpool, where it has stood since 1799. It remains extant and was restored as part of the 2014 renovations conducted by the city.
The Minerva Roundabout in Guadalajara, Mexico, located at the crossing of the López Mateos, Vallarta, López Cotilla, Agustín Yáñez, and Golfo de Cortez avenues, features the goddess standing on a pedestal, surrounded by a large fountain, with an inscription that says "Justice, wisdom and strength guard this loyal city".
Minerva is displayed as a bronze statue in Frederick Ruckstull's 1920 Altar to Liberty: Minerva monument near the top of Battle Hill, the highest point of Brooklyn, New York, in Green-Wood Cemetery.
Minerva is displayed as an 11-ft statue in Antonin Carlès's 1895 "James Gordon Bennett Memorial" in New York City's Herald Square.
A statue of Minerva is displayed at Wells College outside of Main Building. Each year, the senior class decorates Minerva at the beginning of the fall semester. Minerva remains decorated throughout the school year; then during the morning of the last day of classes and after singing around the Sycamore tree, the senior class takes turns kissing the feet of Minerva, believed to be good luck and bring success and prosperity to all graduation seniors.
References and sources
^Larousse Desk Reference Encyclopedia, Book People, Haydock, 1995, p. 215.
^Encarta World English Dictionary 1998–2004 Microsoft Corporation.